As you can see, my son is learning to ride a bike.
It’s been a balancing act of giving him those proverbial wings and running down the sidewalk behind him screaming, “STOP BEFORE YOU GET TO THE STREEEEEETTT!”
I’ve told him how and why he should stop at intersections, to stay in between the white lines when crossing the street, and to be careful at driveways. He always wears a helmet and never gets too far ahead of me. Most of the time he remembers to keep his eyes on the sidewalk and not on the airplane or the lawn decorations or the kids playing…
He gets so excited about going fast that he doesn’t want to stop at the street. I repeat “Cars will not stop for you!” to prove that he has to look out for himself but on almost every bike ride I am undermined. We’ll be near the corner, maybe ten feet away, and a car that doesn’t even have a stop sign will STOP and wave us forward. Sometimes, he even gets a congratulations from the driver of the car on what a good cyclist he is.
This goodwill totally pisses me off because I don’t want my son growing up to think life is going to let him just gallivant through it. I want drivers to keep on driving so he knows he’s the one who needs to be wary. The world doesn’t owe you a favor, kid!
This is my town, though. Everyone here seems to be rooting for all children and looking out for them. You are right in assuming that we live in a bubble but I know it doesn’t extend very far. I grew up in the opposite of a bubble (a crater?) and while my family is awesome and I had mostly positive life events, I Know Better. I know what life can be like and I want my children to be prepared for it.
My son has been mostly accident-free since we started our biking journey a few weeks ago and perhaps he wanted to help me fulfill my vision of biking (and the world) because he’s started creating accidents for himself. He’ll slow to a stop and get off the bike. He carefully tips the bike over until it is on the ground and then he’ll drape himself over it, to give the illusion of a terrible catastrophe. His words, not mine.
The first few times, I laughed and acted the part of the EMT. On a walk this weekend, he had a terrible catastrophe about eight times on one block. It stopped being funny. In fact, I told him that he better watch out for landing in dog poop, because that could happen (world doesn’t owe you any favors, kid).
The dog poop threat didn’t work and he was on the ground for the ninth time when a minivan drove by. It stopped in the middle of the street where we were and the driver rolled the window down. “Oh my goodness, young man! You seem to have had an awful accident! Do you think you will recover?”
What the hell.
This driver was playing along with my son? A stranger, having a laugh with him over his terrible catastrophe!
And it did not dawn on me then, or even a few days later. In fact, I’m still working out the logistics of it now (because it doesn’t fit in with my current worldview). Our bubble is helping me teach my children to be kind.
“I’ll play along with your little game that your mother clearly hates!”
The sweet idealism makes me a little sick to my stomach but I think for now, this is the better lesson for my children to learn. If learning how to balance restraint and assistance is my struggle with teaching my son to ride a bike, then I will be well prepared for the day when I start to teach my children, who may be gallivanting at that point, that the world has given them many gifts and that, in fact, they owe the world a favor. With all the kindness they have learned, they will be well equipped to handle the task of extending that bubble of kindness to others.
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